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Jill Underly, the Democratic party-backed superintendent of the Pecatonica School District, defeated former Brown Deer Schools superintendent Deborah Kerr on Tuesday for becoming the state’s top education official.

From kl. At 9.30pm, Underly had 372,228 votes, while Kerr had 281,469. Approx. 66% of districts reported results where absentee ballots were still to be counted. Nevertheless, Underly declared victory, and Kerr called her late in the evening to admit.

Underly begins the job in July and takes over for Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who was appointed to the state post by Tony Evers when he became governor. Evers held the position for almost a decade.

“Wisconsin’s children and public schools face significant challenges as we work to return to normal, capture each student and support their mental health and well-being in the wake of this pandemic and the enormous trauma and disruption it has caused. all of us, ”Underlyt said.

“Overcoming these obstacles will not be easy, but I know that if we work together, we can get it done and do what is right for our children,” she said.

Underly’s campaign, which was approved and heavily funded by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, spent seven times what Kerr’s campaign used. In addition, external groups spent almost four times as much on ads in Underlight’s favor than in Kerr’s favor.

The level of spending – over $ 1 million in ads alone – was unprecedented for a Wisconsin superintendent race.

Although the position is technically non-partisan, the candidates agreed on whether taxpayer dollars should go to independent charter schools and to coupons for students attending private schools in school choice programs. Supported against extensions of these programs, while Kerr said she supported school choices.

Underly was approved by teachers’ associations, which traditionally oppose coupons because they reduce the funds available to public schools.

Her campaign has focused on plans to expand early childhood education programs and diversify the educational workforce, in part by facilitating teacher licensing and student loan forgiveness.

Kerr was widely supported by conservatives, but also proclaimed a few endorsements from Democrats: State Senator Lena Taylor and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has supported the expansion of charter schools.

“Thank you for holding on to me, all my friends and the community that was with me in the thinnest and most challenging times,” Kerr said. “And I’m so grateful to all the incredible supporters who came to the polls today and stood up for all the kids in Wisconsin.”

Kerr said she called Underly to admit Tuesday night.

“She fought hard and now I hope for her success. Her success as our head of state will mean success for our children, ”Kerr said. “Our children must always come first.”

Major changes to coupon programs will require legislative action. The new superintendent will write budget proposals to fund education and can issue guidance on a range of topics, including pandemic uncertainty, virtual learning, curricula and teacher licenses.

In addition to the escalating violence as election day approached, the political parties in Wisconsin filed ethical complaints about each of the candidates.

The Republican Party in Wisconsin claimed that Underly should not have used her email address in the Pecatonica district to ask other informants for their personal contact information, which she later used to discuss her bid.

Days later, a complaint from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said Kerr should not have used her email address in the Brown Deer District to discuss business for her new company, Lead Greatly LLC.

The candidates also had major disagreements about the future of the state supreme position and the Department of Public Instruction. Kerr proposed relocating or hiring most of the agency’s more than 400 employees away from Madison and into offices around the state. Subcritically, the plan was criticized as disruptive and costly.

Kerr also said during a forum that she was interested in making the top mandate a cabinet position appointed by the governor rather than elected. A spokeswoman for her campaign later went back and said her response came out of frustration at the level of biased funding during the race.

Contact Rory Linnane at rory.linnane@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.

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